Moynihan's Memory Malfunction.
Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan Can't Remember Anything
By Matt Taibbi
Thank God for Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan. If you're a court junkie, or have the misfortune (as some of us poor reporters do) of being forced professionally to spend a lot of time reading legal documents, the just-released Moynihan deposition in MBIA v. Bank of America, Countrywide, and a Buttload of Other Shameless Mortgage Fraudsters will go down as one of the great Nixonian-stonewalling efforts ever, and one of the more entertaining reads of the year.
In this long-awaited interrogation – Bank of America has been fighting to keep Moynihan from being deposed in this case for some time – Moynihan does a full Star Trek special, boldly going where no deponent has ever gone before, breaking out the "I don't recall" line more often and perhaps more ridiculously than was previously thought possible. Moynihan seems to remember his own name, and perhaps his current job title, but beyond that, he'll have to get back to you.
The MBIA v. Bank of America case is one of the bigger and weightier lawsuits hovering over the financial world. Prior to the crash, MBIA was, along with a company called Ambac, one of the two largest and most reputable names in what's called the "monoline" insurance business.
The monolines sell a kind of investment insurance – if you invest in a municipal bond or in mortgage-backed securities backed or "wrapped" by a monoline, you have backing in case the investment goes south. If a municipality defaults on its bond payments, or homeowners in a mortgage-backed security default on their mortgage payments, the investors in those instruments can collect from the monoline insurer.
When companies like Countrywide issued their giant piles of crappy subprime mortgages and then chopped them up and turned them into AAA-rated securities to sell to suckers around the world, they often had these mortgage-backed securities insured by companies like MBIA or Ambac, to make their customers feel doubly safe about investing in their product.
The pitch firms like Countrywide made went like this: not only are these mortgages triple-A rated by reputable ratings agencies like Moody's, they're fully insured by similarly reputable insurance companies like MBIA. You can't lose!
With protection like that, why shouldn't your state pension fund or foreign trade union buy billions' worth of these mortgage-backed products? It's not like it would ever turn out that Countrywide made those products by trolling the cities of America stuffing mortgages in the pockets of anything with a pulse.
After 2007-8, when all of those mortgage-backed securities started blowing up, suddenly all of those insurance companies started having to pay out billions in claims. Ambac went bankrupt and MBIA was downgraded from AAA to near-junk status. The entire monoline industry was shattered.
The analogy one could make is that Countrywide sold a million flood-insured houses in New Orleans and Biloxi even though they could already see Katrina gathering in the Caribbean. Then, after the storm, the insurers decided to sue.
MBIA sued Bank of America (which acquired Countrywide in 2008), claiming that Countrywide lied to MBIA about its supposedly strict underwriting standards, when in fact the firm was cranking out mortgages hand over fist, without doing any real due diligence at all. (Whether the monolines should have known better, or its agents perhaps did know better and sold the mountains of insurance anyway, is another matter). In its suit, MBIA claimed that Countrywide turned itself into a veritable machine of mortgage approvals:
Countrywide Home Loans' senior management imposed intense pressure on underwriters to approve mortgage loans, in some instances requiring underwriters to process 60 to 70 mortgage loan applications in a single day and to justify any rejections…
As a result of all of this, MBIA got stuck insuring a Himalayan mountain range of dicey mortgages. When the securities those mortgages backed started to fail, MBIA ended up paying out $2.2 billion in claims, helping crack the hull of the formerly staid, solid, AAA-rated firm.
Suits like this have the whole financial world on edge. The possibility that the banks might still have to pay gigantic claims to companies like MBIA (among a wide range of other claimants) has left Wall Street in a state of uncertainty about the future of some of the better-known, Too-Big-To-Fail companies, whose already-strained balance sheets might eventually be rocked by massive litigation payouts.
In the case of Bank of America, MBIA has long wanted to depose Moynihan because it was precisely Moynihan who went public with comments about how B of A was going to make good on the errors made by its bad-seed acquisition, Countrywide. "At the end of the day, we'll pay for the things Countrywide did," was one such comment Moynihan made, in November of 2010.
As it turns out, Moynihan was deposed last May 2. But the deposition was only made public this week, when it was filed as an exhibit in a motion for summary judgment. In the deposition, attorney Peter Calamari of Quinn Emmanuel, representing MBIA, attempts to ask Moynihan a series of questions about what exactly Bank of America knew about Countrywide's operations at various points in time.
Early on, he asks Moynihan if he remembers the B of A audit committee discussing Countrywide. Moynihan says he "doesn't recall any specific discussion of it."
He's asked again: In the broadest conceivable sense, do you recall ever attending an audit committee meeting where the word Countrywide or any aspect of the Countrywide transaction was ever discussed? Moynihan: I don't recall.